The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (5293) Lance Corporal Herbert Gordon Akhurst, 20th Infantry Battalion AIF, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.63
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 4 March 2021
Access Open
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (5293) Lance Corporal Herbert Gordon Akhurst, 20th Infantry Battalion AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

5293 Lance Corporal Herbert Gordon Akhurst, 20th Infantry Battalion AIF
KIA 25th March 1917

Today we remember and pay tribute to Lance Corporal Herbert Gordon Akhurst.

Herbert Akhurst was born in 1893 in the Sydney suburb of Balmain, the son of newspaper printer Thomas Akhurst and his wife Emilie. One of five children, he received his education at Annandale Superior Public School, and served in the Sydney Irish Rifles for a year on completion of his schooling. When war broke out in 1914 he was employed as an accountant in Sydney.

Akhurst was 22 years old when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 August 1915. After enlisting, Akhurst studied at Duntroon for a year, emerging as a sergeant before embarking with the 20th Battalion from Sydney on board the troopship Wiltshire in August 1916.

Akhurst arrived in England in late 1916 and spent time training. He reverted to the rank of private before leaving for France in December that year. He joined his unit in January 1917 and was stationed around Albert in the Somme region of Northern France. Throughout February the 20th Battalion served in the front lines. Akhurst was promoted to lance corporal and had his first taste of life in the trenches. He wrote home to his parents to describe his experiences, saying:

“I was with my sergeant at the water pump in a certain village. We were talking to the cook and I took a parcel from him. We only walked about three yards away from him when a shell lobbed in between us. The force of it blew my tin hat off and knocked the sergeant over … the cook was wounded in three or four places and I had blood on my face … Well you would have thought Fritz had seen us because all the way down that street he followed us with shells. You can bet we didn’t dawdle on the way! Then about three days after there were four of us sitting in a dug out at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when without any warning it fell in on us. Fritz had dropped a big shell on top of us!”

In March, Akhurst’s unit fought during the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. Having taken the French village of Bapaume during the retreat, the allies set up battalion headquarters in the old Bapaume town hall. Akhurst took an administrative position working behind the lines as a clerk.

Before the retreat, the enemy had set a series of traps in anticipation of the allied advance. Deep in the cellars of the town hall the Germans had placed an explosive device attached to a wire slowly corroding in acid. Akhurst was billeted in the cellars of the town hall where he wrote a letter to his parents on 23 March, describing his wartime experience.

Just two days later, the wire snapped, detonating the bomb in the cellar, obliterating the building and killing 26 men. Among the dead was 24-year-old Lance Corporal Herbert Akhurst.

Akhurst’s comrade Private Penfold, who was in Bapaume the following day, described the remains of the town hall as “a heap of bricks”.

Working parties attempted to recover the bodies of those killed in the explosion for at least five days.

Lance Corporal Akhurst’s remains were laid to rest, but were lost during subsequent fighting in the region. Today, he is commemorated on the Australian memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 62,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Lance Corporal Herbert Gordon Akhurst who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meghan Adams
Researcher, Australian War Memorial

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